I watch you, asleep on the bed of rags I made for you near the fire.
You have changed, ma chérie. When did your arms become bone and sagging flesh? When did your round face shrink and tighten, your silky dark hair fade to gray? You are no older than I, just past twenty, a mere girl.
Should I waken you now? You breathe in ragged gasps, and the dark hollows around your eyes speak of many restless nights. No... I will wait ‘til dawn. One more hour, then, perhaps two...
And then what? Shall I try to hide you? Or shall I do what I know I should?
Just yesterday—was it only yesterday?—I went out at dawn to wait for the tumbrels to pass, bumping over the cobblestones. The crowd jostled for position as the first cart careened into view, carrying its load of enemies.
Yes, enemies. Enemies of the state, of the people, of the revolution, of liberty. Enemies of the people of France herself!
We screamed in chorus, the sound rising and falling in waves like the rocking of the carts:
“Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité!”
And the souls aboard the tumbrels seemed like all the others who had passed in front of us: faceless symbols of a society that starved and abused us. Perhaps their clothes were not so fine—no draggled frills, no powdered hair. But aristocrats had been in short supply lately. We’d had to make do with Girondins and other traitors to the revolution.
The cart passed and swayed. A great swell of hatred rose in my chest, and I shouted the vilest words I knew—
And then I looked up into the eyes of a boy younger than myself, small and slender and frightened, roughly dressed. He shrank back, trembling, against an older woman with a peasant’s face and bound hands.
My anger guttered and died like a candle flame. I slunk back through the crowd, back to my room. And I sat alone in the darkness, trying not to ask the traitorous question:
That boy—what had he done to merit La Guillotine?
When someone knocked, I sprang up as if my thoughts had betrayed me to Robespierre, and he had sent his Citizens to arrest me.
But it was you—my own Ginette—and so thin and changed that I clasped you tightly as if to hold you to earth.
I gave you what I had to eat: a bit of potato and leek in water. When you spoke your treasonous words, I listened.
“Louis, Louis... do you remember all that we said, the night you and the other village men raided the chateau? You knew you would have to flee. ‘Look for me in Paris,’ you said. ‘We will change the world.’ Change the world? It is a lie!”
O, Ginette, ma chérie, I very nearly thrust you out then. Perhaps a day before I would have, or given you to the Committee. But the eyes of the boy stopped me. Instead I grabbed you by the shoulders and whispered against your ear,
“You must not say such things, Ginette. Now tell me why you came. Is it so bad in the village?”
“Bad? I fear for my life since they took Mama and Papa...”
“Took them? Who? The Marquis or his kind?”
“The Marquis and his family were taken long ago. It was your Parisian madmen who came to our village and robbed the farmers of grain, calling us ‘hoarders.’ ‘Enemies of the Revolution,’ they called us... Enemies only because we had what they wanted!”
More treason! Yet I held you and comforted you, and said I would protect you, as I promised when we were betrothed.
Now I watch your wasted form draw gasping breaths, and I know I cannot betray you. Will not. We will go somewhere, somewhere far from Paris...
But what is that? A noise, growing louder; a noise I know well...
I shake you awake, and you gaze at me with frightened, drowsy eyes.
The tumult grows louder, until it reaches the door. I pull you against me, and let you bury your face on my shoulder. Then the door shakes, and they are here, crowding into the room.
I start to speak—but it is too late, for the hatred in their eyes speaks louder than their frenzied words.
I know what they think we are.
Whatever “liberty” means, it is not this.
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